On Tues, March 7th, Los Angeles voters can say NO to Trump's Education Secretary Betsy Devos by casting their ballots to re-elect LAUSD President Steve Zimmer of District 4, a swath of land that stretches from Westchester’s jet stream and Venice’s beach boardwalk to East Hollywood’s hip cafes and parts of the sun-drenched Valley that include working-class Tarzana and Van Nuys.
I am a 20-year public school teacher, now teaching special education at Venice High School in Zimmer's district, and there's a reason I'm joining other public school teachers to phone bank on weekends and during the week to re-elect Zimmer, a teacher of 17 years and former counselor at Marshall High School.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest behind New York City, is under attack again and the stakes are high -- the future for 550,000 students, over 75% of them people of color.
No one needs to schlep to DC in a pink pussy hat to beat back billionaires salivating to bankrupt the Los Angeles Unified School District by turning 50% of the district's schools into charters -- taxpayer-funded crap shoots privately run in the shadows, often beyond even the sleepy eyes of an anemic charter school board. When in 2015 the LA Times leaked billionaire Eli Broad’s 8-year plan to siphon off half of LAUSD schools into charters, Zimmer opposed the plan publicly, saying, "It's not even a plan that uses competition as this lever for profound change; it really is a takeover strategy."
But Broad and the Waltons of union-busting Wal Mart fame haven’t given up on massive charter expansion, spending millions on independent expenditures to defeat Zimmer, even though privatizers’ last effort to bounce Zimmer and bust public sector unions failed miserably. As Zimmer explained to teachers at a union conference in 2015, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg wasted a million dollars trying to unseat him because Zimmer was and is wary of charters.
In purist circles, some critics complain that Zimmer has approved too many charter applications during his eight-year tenure on the board, but we must remember that California state law leaves districts wide open to costly lawsuits and county and state board of education appeals if charter applicants who meet state criteria are turned down.
Nevertheless, Zimmer has used his bully pulpit and wonk hat to limit the proliferation of charters by making public schools more appealing with new magnets -- schools within schools – like Venice High School’s STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) and World Language Magnet or the Spanish, Mandarin and French immersion programs at various Westside schools.
A champion of arts education, Zimmer saved the arts from devastating budget cuts, mobilizing parents, students, and teachers at rallies to preserve music, drama, dance, painting and other arts programs in the classroom.
Besides protecting and expanding arts education, Zimmer has gone to bat to save early childhood education programs -- the ones that teach 3-year olds to identify colors and letters and take turns and share -- and went the distance to make sure budget cuts did not close the doors to adult education -- a critical resource for my students who need to make up credits to graduate and for young adults who need parenting skills or immigrants who yearn for citizenship.
Lest any voter ponder staying home -- like the 50 million who sat on the couch during our last disastrous Presidential election -- know that the billionaire boys are backing Zimmer's opposition for a reason -- because they need a partner to form a majority to plan and execute the dismantling of public education in Los Angeles. It's not a matter of backing someone who will approve their charter application, for it is fundamentally far more threatening than that. At issue is subsidizing a candidate who can huddle in the back room to plot the multiplication of charter schools where non-union teachers work at will, subject to termination at any time, and students contend with a revolving door of inexperienced teachers amid incompetent yet highly paid management.
During Zimmer's tenure on the board, graduation rates increased from 54% to 75%, while truancy and suspension rates decreased. Zimmer kept the district on a sound financial track, working to bring in $300 million federal dollars to LAUSD through the 2010 Education Jobs bill, making a strong case for passage of additional school funding guaranteed under Prop 30, then more recently Prop 55, and addressing the underfunding of special education with an eye to equity and access. Under Zimmer’s financial stewardship, LA Unified has been awarded the highest bond credit rating of AAA. Can’t beat that.
To avoid an expensive run-off and spare us another round of deceptive billionaire attack ads, Zimmer needs a simple majority of the vote next Tuesday. It could come down to a few thousand votes. Make one of them yours. Forget the couch. Don’t let someone else make this crucial decision for you. Get to the polls on March 7th to re-elect Steve Zimmer. Show Betsy we mean business.